Markel Brown, rebounding keys for No. 7 Oklahoma State moving forward

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — When Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash all announced that they would be returning to Stillwater for another season, Oklahoma State fans immediately began to think championship thoughts. Oklahoma State hasn’t won the Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and their last Big 12 tournament title came in 2005, so it’s safe to say that the program is hungry for another championship.

In their 78-73 win over No. 20 Colorado on Saturday night, it was a group effort that led the Cowboys to their 11th win of the season. Brown scored 23 points, and with Michael Cobbins struggling mightily (two points, one rebound and five fouls) he also grabbed 11 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season.

Brown was one of four Cowboys to finish in double figures, with Smart (18 points), Phil Forte III (16) and Nash (15) being the others. Oklahoma State’s offensive balance was on full display in the second half as they shot 61.9% from the field and averaged 1.24 points per possession, doing a far better job of distributing the basketball. That isn’t about passing the ball around so much as it’s about finding guys in spots where they can be most successful.

“I didn’t like our offense in the first half. I kept telling our guys that we were our own worst enemy,” Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford said after the game. “Throwing the ball away, taking some tough shots…we’ll get the shot we want if we just be patient and get the ball to certain people in certain places. In the second half we did that. We got the ball to the right people in the right places, and good things happened.”

The chief beneficiary of this against Colorado was Brown, and in a game that featured two of the nation’s best point guards he stood out. Oklahoma State is the biggest threat to Kansas’ current run of nine straight (outright or shared) Big 12 regular season titles, with Markel Brown being one reason why. And with that has come the recognition that wasn’t always there.

“I think he used to be [overlooked]. I think now he has the reputation of being one of the better players in America,” noted Ford. “More people are realizing that he can score, defend and rebound, so I think everybody knows about him now.”

There are areas in which Oklahoma State needs to improve before the start of Big 12 play, with rebounding being one. On the season opponents are rebounding more than 32% of their missed shots, with Colorado corralling almost 43% of their misses on Saturday. That resulted in 21 second-chance points for the Buffaloes, keeping them afloat despite shooting 6-for-22 from beyond the arc.

And with the front courts that teams like Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State feature, how well Oklahoma State performs on the glass will determine their place in the Big 12 pecking order.

“Definitely rebounding,” Brown said when asked where the Cowboys need to improve. “It was big tonight, and it’s going to be big all through the Big 12. If we rebound and continue to get back and stop teams in transition, then we’ll be great.”

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.